Two great acts co-headlined Thursday’s show at Red Butte Gardens: Josh Ritter and JJ Grey & Mofro.
Ritter’s warm, deep voice has a raw quality that’s interesting and appealing. The singer-songwriter recorded his latest album in New Orleans, and that influence shows up wonderfully in his style.
Although Ritter’s voice and guitar skills really seem suited for folk music, at Red Butte he delivered on his claim that his music can be “rock and roll with lots of words.” His songs are packed with beautifully written lyrics that vary from funny social commentary (“Jesus hates your high school dances”) to heartbreaking (“My new lover… she only looks like you in a certain kind of light when she holds her head just right”) to downright poetic (“I like my lightning sweet”).
After Ritter had played a few tunes, an audience member shouted “Welcome Back!” This crowd loves their hometown boys, even if they do come from a little farther north.
“I grew up in Moscow, Idaho,” Ritter told the crowd halfway through the set. “Utah was the most exotic place I knew. This is an absolutely beautiful place to play.” Cue cheers.
Ritter ventured into different musical genres – sometimes folk, sometimes more jazz/blues – but somehow it didn’t translate into an identity crisis. His catchy, nostalgic, rootsy sound was dance-worthy and right on target. I was excited to see Ritter ditch the band for a solo rendition of “Snow is Gone.” This song showed off his soulful voice and pure talent on the acoustic guitar.
JJ Grey & Mofro kicked off their set with a blues sound, switched halfway through to Southern rock, and threw some jazz in there, too. I loved every minute.
Grey, a Jacksonville, Florida native, turned on the Southern charm in between songs with a gushing of “Thank y’all”s and passionate storytelling that deserved choruses of amens and hallelujahs. The combination of his voice and his band sounded like what real biscuits and gravy tastes like. Yep, I went there.
The guy next to me said that Grey was “multitalented” when he busted out the harmonica, and he was so right. Grey and his band put on a show that really let you lose yourself in the music. It was an upbeat and soulful performance that could have taken place in downtown Memphis.
“We don’t ever know what’s gonna happen next,” Grey said by way of introducing a roaring blues number. “We’re gonna play something funky.”
Grey and the band added lively solos from the tambourine, trumpet, trombone, piano and electric guitar to close out the night.